Saturday, November 6, 2010

What "Imagine" really means

I love the song "Imagine" by John Lennon. You all know the lyrics, so I won't quote them. Plus, if I do, Yoko Ono might sue me. And I don't want that.

It's amusing what meaning some people assign to this song.

The song is, IMO, quite clear: imagine taking away all the silly, imaginary reasons that people wage war over and, therefore, imagine living in peace.

And it often sends a lot of people into a frenzy. Religious people have a melt down because they do not believe that love, respect, joy and tolerance is possible without a belief in God (example: John Shore's What Atheists Have Dead Wrong About Religion). Patriots believe you are saying that you want to burn the national flag, do away with national borders, and not fight back against, say, invading hoards of Cannibalistic Canadians. Capitalists believe you want to institute Communism and take away all their stuff.

I don't think "Imagine" is an Atheist anthem. I know a LOT of Atheists who love their possessions and don't want anyone messing with such, myself included. And we certainly didn't see John Lennon giving away all of his wealth and possessions -- the rent at the Dakota was NOT cheap!

The song's point is simply: think about what we fight over, and consider if it's really worth fighting for, and realize that so much of what we fight over is just an idea, and that's dumb.

The song isn't saying that some things aren't worth fighting for. I certainly believe there are things worth fighting for. Repelling the Nazis was most definitely worth fighting for, but I'm not sure anything in World War I was. Women's rights in Afghanistan is, IMO, worth fighting for, and there are times I wish we were arming the women there. When the Cannibalistic Canadians show up, I'll fight, I promise.

But haven't you ever read about a conflict between two groups in a land far, far away from you, your country, your culture, and maybe even your present time period and thought, geesh, what a stupid thing to fight over!? Even in the conflicts I've named earlier, even those involving Cannibalistic Canadians, aren't there always early opportunities to derail hateful momentum, before we cross the line where war might become necessary? That, I believe, is the point of the song.

People seem to always be able to find a reason to hate each other, even when there is no threat from that person whatsoever. Sometimes the reason is where or to whom the person was born, or the color of his or her skin, or his or her language. But if the reason for conflict isn't born from religion, it is all too often fueled by religion -- by a belief in a god or gods. Belief in deities and a belief that those who don't believe the same way are evil has fueled -- if not caused -- genocides and acts of terrorism the world over. And the sad reality is that we hear and see far more of these hateful, "godly" people, and feel their impact more, than we do of those who claim their religion is an instrument only of peace and transformation. Far more.

It's fascinating to hear religious people say that someone who is hateful, or a movement that wanted to make war on another group, was already full of hate and just used religion as a justification for acting on that hate -- but who attribute anything good that is done to a deity. Couldn't it also be true that good people might already be full of love and just needed religion as a justification for doing good that? If the religion wasn't there, couldn't a good person then also say, "It was my duty to my country" or "It was for the honor of my family" and right on down the line?

I wish I could say that a belief in God, patriotism and family loyalty were always -- or even usually -- forces for good. But, sadly, what I see far more, what I experience far more, is that they are forces for evil.

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